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04/04/2004 Archived Entry: "An Exclusive Interview with Art Binkowski"
An Exclusive Interview with Art Binkowski
For an up and coming, 11-0-1 heavyweight who missed out on accolades afforded Gold Medal winners, former Olympian Art Binkowski travels around in pretty heady company. A three time sparring partner of Lennox Lewis, he cautioned this interviewer that in about an hour, he was meeting with Hollywood heavyweights, Ron Howard and Russell Crowe for a “get together.”
Art Binkowski is currently on hiatus from boxing as he winds down his role in a Ron Howard movie, entitled, “The Cinderella Man.” In this upcoming Universal Pictures release, he plays the part of heavyweight prospect John “Corn” Griffith opposite Russell Crowe’s rendition of eventual 1930s heavyweight champ, James J. Braddock.
In the movie, Binkowski, AKA “Corn” Griffith ends up getting knocked out by Crowe’s Braddock. However, at 29, 6’ 2”, 230 pounds, 11-0-1 with eight kayos and—according to Art—“extremely good looking for a heavyweight,” the highly affable and confident fighter figures to be the one dolling out the knockouts.
A Canadian, Art Binkowski fights out of Chicago where—with the highest concentration of Poles outside of Warsaw—he is very popular with the Polish community. Currently, all his fights are broadcast on Pole Vision (Channel 23 in Chicago) on a delayed basis, appearing a week or two after the actual event. Moreover, he grants interviews on a Polish radio station, 1030 AM, which is also associated with Pole Vision.
According to manager Brian Nix, Binkowski’s popularity is due to the fact that he fills a void left by heavyweight contender Andrew Golotta after he quit in his bouts versus Michael Grant and Mike Tyson. This experience left a bad taste in the collective mouth of the Polish community. Enter one Art Binkowski with his popular, no nonsense, wade-in, slugging brand of boxing and an amiable and talkative personality to boot. This contrasts notably with Golotta, who has been known to be curt and—at times—surly with interviewers and fans alike.
Rounding out the picture, Art recently married his sweetheart, Agatha Binkowski, in a civil ceremony and plans to have a large, follow-up church wedding at a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Chicago in July 2, 2005. From all accounts, Agatha not only supports his tongue-in-cheek remarks about his good looks, but his ring career, as well.
In this interview, Binkowski touched on subjects ranging from his boxing experience thus far, training on site at a movie set, newfound admiration for boxers in the 1930s, sparring sessions with Lennox Lewis to his plans for the future.
Juan Ayllon: You fought as a representative of the Canadian team at the 2000 Sydney, Australia Olympics. Tell us about that.
Art Binkowski: Arnie Boehm was my amateur trainer. He mapped out a strategy that won the Ontario Championships (a province) and then winning the National Championships and an Olympic qualifier, getting the best results from all Canadian fighters. I was the only one [from Canada] who made the quarterfinals. Of course, I was disappointed; I expected a gold medal. I ended up boxing for the Bronze.
I fought for the Bronze medal against an Uzbekistan fighter. They are very similar to the Russian school of fighting. They touch and go, touch out and go. He didn’t come to fight like the first guy I fought; he came to play. With computer scoring, any fighter’s jab is worth a knockdown. In the amateurs, there’s so much favoritism, politics. They took away the things that make boxing attractive: aggression, power of punching.
So, I went professional. It takes time to properly decide who will be your trainer, your manager and so forth...I took one and a half years for me to decide.
Fighters should not be rewarded from boxing from the start. You need to prove yourself at the beginning. You need to prove that you have all those elements [ability to box, to punch and to take a punch] with heart—you finish the fight. As they prove themselves, they can get sponsors, et cetera as a result.
JA: Are you suggesting that all the money given star Olympic athletes makes them soft and contributes to the overall mediocre level of boxing today?
AB: Yes, you get spoiled when you get lucrative right from the beginning just because you won a medal at the Olympics. Quite a few of those fighters were not able to live up to those expectations. The first name that comes to mind is David Reid, that 160-pound fighter. On paper, against mediocre opponents, he looked fantastic, but when they put him in deep water with quality opponents, he didn’t have a chance.
JA: Who was your toughest opponent?
AB: Each fight is a tough fight. It’s hard to say. There’s only one fighter that came to fight intimidated from me. His strategy was to run for six rounds. It was my first fight that went the distance. He gave me too much respect; I’m not Mike Tyson. I don’t have the strength of Mike Tyson or strategy of Mike Tyson.
Each fight presented new challenges. Everyone had a different big punch. In most cases, they did connect. I don’t shy away from getting hit.
The toughest fighter was Jesse Tucker. I fought Jesse Tucker in Chicago at the UIC Pavilion and 10,000 seats, my first big showing. ShowTime was there with Acelino Frietas. I fought on the under card.
Jesse Tucker was tough because he came at me the same way I came at him. I remember me hitting him hard. Heavy hooks and rights were hitting his face in the first round.
After seeing his head bounce left, right and center, I relaxed. He came boom, bang, bong! He hit me hard flush on the face. His punches turned my head. I was relaxed; he refreshed my memory not to take anyone lightly!
At the end of the second round, I had to prove to myself, as times get tough, you’ve got to bounce back and be tougher! I was quick enough. The right hand stunned him on the jaw. Even though he didn’t go down after that quick one-two [left jab-straight right combination], I was able to see that I hurt him.
With my experience, I can see these things. I threw 20 big blows and he refused to go down. The ref tried to be fair and gave him a standing eight count. In the third or fourth round, he threw a looping shot. It was slow because he was exhausted. I countered with a big right hand and knocked him out. We became friends after that to this day.
JA: What is your fighting style or preference?
AB: I always like to be a counter puncher. I don’t like to be the aggressor. I like to feel his power first. Now, my trainer, Everton McEwan from Toronto is making some changes. We are starting the fight very aggressively, picking the shots. We’re going for the liver, chin and the temple.
JA: What are your plans as your part in the filming of “Cinderella Man” winds down?
AB: The plan is I finish shooting the movie at the end of April. This is a boxing movie. I do boxing six days a week. My trainer comes to the set every day to work on boxing.
This is my longest break in my career. We’ll see its effects. I like to stay in shape by fighting a lot. However, before, I didn’t take enough time to reflect after each fight and make improvements from fight to fight. I’m working more on my movement and my defense. [Editor’s note: Binkowski’s manager, Brian Nix, said that Art wasn’t allowed to spar during filming, but had heavy punching bags at the film site].
We’ll fight on May 21st. We’ll talk about a specific opponent at the end of April. A lot of people think I’ll have ring rust, so I’ll take an easier opponent.
Overall, this has been a very positive experience for me. They say that this is the biggest movie to Canada; it has the largest budget!
Angelo Dundee is on the set daily with me, besides helping out with boxing [scenes] on the set. Angelo is very interested in my boxing career. He watches me hit the bag and various boxing drills and gives me tips occasionally.
One point of disagreement with Angelo and me is that he’s very “old school”; he has no room for weight training when it comes to boxing. I do believe that through specific weight training, you can enhance your boxing performance. Angelo’s very “old school” and we laugh about it! All I do is boxing and improving on my skills. This experience has made me tougher. I was already tough.
JA: How did this experience make you tougher?
AB: It made me realize that in the 1930’s, these guys had really tough lives. They fought in the Depression for purses of around $100. The gloves they wore were really tiny and soft! They weren’t like the big gloves we wear today. I bet you could sometimes feel the knuckles knocking your head!
I have studied films of these fighters. They were used to taking punishment all the time to the head and the body constantly and they refused to go down. Many times, they weren’t fighting to get a title shot. It was more like you might not get the opportunity to make your next $100 for the next fight.
[Still] these days, boxing remains the most tough, demanding and dangerous sport in terms of health and safety.
JA: Tell us about your sparring experience with Lennox Lewis.
AB: We sparred on three different occasions. The first time was the first Holyfield fight. Then it was the “White Buffalo,” Françoise Botha. Lennox paid for my sparring sessions, which I provided. As a bonus, he threw in the trip to England where he dismantled Botha!
The third time, he had me up at the Pocono’s for Hassim Rahman for the second fight where he knocked out Rahman [Art added that Lennox always trained at the Pocono’s].
He was always disciplined, but he was most focused for that last one. He was very serious getting ready for the Rahman fight.
[Art’s manager, Brian Nix added that Binkowski and Lennox Lewis formerly shared the same amateur trainer, the late Arnie Boehm and, in fact, both attended his funeral when he passed.]
JA: What was it like sparring with Lennox Lewis?
AB: The first time it was shocking. He was overwhelming with his size, power and quickness. I didn’t expect a man so big to be as quick as he was. I did not get dropped. However, he did stun me a couple of times.
The second, third time then I knew what to expect. That was fun. Each time, I didn’t do more than three rounds.
I saw him as a very calculating, tricky fighter. Every move he makes is for a reason.
JA: What kind of time line do you have in terms of a title shot down the road?
AB: I’m a day-to-day kind of guy. I don’t know when I want to fight for the title.
With boxing, it varies from individual to individual. There’s no specific time limit; you evaluate it on an individual basis.
At heavyweight, I say by 36 years it’s time to stop if you’re concerned for health and family and kids. And I plan on having kids with my wife. I say within the next five, six seven years. In the next five to six years, I’m looking to do some serious boxing and see how far I can go.
Art Binkowski is promoted by Hitz Boxing Promotions. For more information, visit www.hitzboxing.com.
Photo courtesy of www.artbinkowski.com
Replies: 1 Comment made on this article
enjoy your article looking forward to seeing the movie.I will watch for your return to boxing good luck Mando Ramos
Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org">Mando Ramos @ 04/08/2004 10:59 PM EST